Thursday, November 28, 2013

A REVIEW OF CHRIST AND TIME BY OSCAR CULLMAN

Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History, 3rd edition. Oscar Cullman. Translated from German by Floyd V. Filson. SCM Press Ltd., 1962.

            This book, by Oscar Cullman, who is also the author of the book The Christology of the New Testament, and a plethora of other books concerning New Testament Interpretation and Theology, seeks to outline how, according to Cullman, the early church interpreted history and time. Seeking to stay as far away from any philosophical influences Cullman wishes to explain what the proper Christian understanding of History is according to scripture. In a sense this book is a contribution to the philosophy of history, but, Cullman does not wish it to be seen this way, rather, he wishes to show how history should be interpreted, in light of the truth of Christianity. This review will begin by explaining the purpose of this book, followed by an outline of the way in which the author accomplishes his purpose. Finally we will speculate concerning the relative utility and worth of this book today.

            According to Cullman, the purpose of this book is to show that, “In the first place, salvation is bound to a continuous time process which embraces past, present, and future. Revelation and salvation take place along the course of an ascending time line.”[1] He also seeks to show that “it is characteristic of this estimate of time as the scene of redemptive history that all points of this redemptive line are related to the one historical fact at the mid-point, a fact which precisely in its unrepeatable character, which marks all historical events, is decisive for salvation. This fact is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here we intend to show how the different individual sections of the whole line are constantly determined from this mid-point, but yet have their own significance in time.”[2] Cullman will argue that the Christian view of time, which may be described as linear, is properly described as “redemptive” in the following sense: all history from the beginning of time leads up to the apex of history (the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ), and all history continues on from that Apex towards the end. As such, though time may be described truthfully as linear, it is linear in a special redemptive sense, because every point on the timeline of history finds its importance in how it relates to the redemptive act of Christ on the cross. Cullman says, “An event of the past, the death and resurrection of Christ, is regarded as the decisive mid-point of the entire line of revelation, and in this way the connection of the future with what has previously happened is no longer left vague and undefined; rather now for the first time, on the basis of the fixed orientation to that mid-point in time, the line can be clearly drawn from the beginning on, in its unbroken continuity.”[3]

            The book is divided into four main sections, each section is divided into multiple chapters. In the first main section, composed of 8 chapters, Cullman lays out his argument concerning the Christian interpretation of history. In chapter 1 Cullman argues that the New Testament always uses the Greek terms that designate periods of time in relation to the redemptive act of Christ. This is used to support his claim that: "This schematic survey shows that only this simple rectilinear conception of unending time can be considered as the framework for the New Testament history of  redemption. "[4] He primarily considers two terms Aeion and Kairos. In chapter 2 Cullman sets out to demonstrate the enormous difference between the Hellenic view of Time and History (circular) and the Christian view of time and History (Linear and Redemptive). It should be noted that when Cullmann refers to Hellenism, or Greek philosophy, his main sparring partner is Platonic philosophy. Almost none of the critiques that he throws at Greek thought apply to Aristotelian thought. Yet one wonders if his comments concerning Greek philosophy and Hellenic thought are not a little overly broad. In chapter 3 Cullman sets out to show that the Christian view of the relationship between time and eternity is drastically different from the Greek view of this same relation (particularly the Platonistic understanding). He argues that the Greeks viewed eternity as "timelessness",[5] whereas Christians viewed eternity as "the endless succession of the ages".[6] In chapter 4 Cullman sets out to show how God is the Lord (ruler) of the ages, of eternity and of time. He provides numerous arguments to prove this point. He also provides numerous arguments to show that in Christ believers share in the Lordship of God over time (though in a limited way of course). The most interesting part of this chapter is his discussion of how the now/not yet schema is portrayed in the NT, the early church, and the individual believer. This schema (now/not yet) will be constantly referred to in the rest of the book and is an integral part of Cullmann’s position. In chapter 5 Cullman compares and Contrasts the Jewish and Christian interpretations of History and Time. He shows that for the Jews, the midpoint of History is still future, and is the dividing line between the present and the coming ages. For the Christian the midpoint of history was the death and resurrection of Christ. As such the midpoint actually took place during the present age (in which we still find ourselves), and the coming age is still future. As such the midpoint is now past, but is the intepretative key for a proper understanding of prior and future history. Chapter 6 is the weakest chapter of the whole book and the most difficult to understand. In Chapter 6 Cullman explores the Christian use of Myth, Saga, and historical fact alongside one another without distinguishing the differences between them. Myth is described as descriptions of "the processes of creation and nature",[7] and Sagas as "things beyond the reach of historical testing."[8] He concludes that "The Primitive Christian understanding of the history of salvation is correctly understood only when we see that in it history and myth are thoroughly and essentially bound together, and that they are both to be brought together, on the one side by the common denominator of prophecy and on the other by the common denominator of development in time."[9] At one point he notes that, in his view, Adam was not a historical person in the same way that Jesus was a historical person.[10] This seems, at first glance, to be a strange claim. Does he mean that Adam is not historical in the sense that we cannot historically verify that he existed (accepting the claims of the Bible by faith), or that he never really existed, but is necessary for the Christian conception of redemptive history? This claim needs to be read in the light of the following statement: “Narratives concerning the origin and the end of the entire process are only prophecy, inasmuch as objectively they are only the object of revelation and subjectively only the object of faith.”[11] With this in mind, all Biblical affirmations about the beginning - creation - and the end - Christ's return, etc., are mythical, or prophetical, in the sense that they cannot be historically verified, and must be accepted by faith. In chapter 7 Cullman will "attempt to give a brief sketch of this Christ-line of redemptive history as it presents itself in chronological sequence,”[12] and to show that the early Christians saw the timeline of history as a "Christ-line". In the final chapter of this section Cullman shows how the principle of the representation (Israel is to represent God to mankind, and mankind to God; the remnant represents Israel; Jesus represents the remnant, etc.)of mankind to God, and the progressive narrowing of the elect representative from the many to the one culminates with Christ, and then, from Christ the movement is from the One to the many who are elect, and made one, in Christ.

In the second main section, composed of 4 chapters, he explains the characteristics of the 4 important periods of history, the midpoint, the past period, the present period and the future period. Chapter 1 of Part 2 is used by Cullman to demonstrate, first of all, the great offense of the Cross. He begins by positioning the reader in the skin of the first century Jews who had known Christ in order to help us understand the scandal of believing. He then points out that the first major Christian heresy (Docetism) was directly related to the scandal of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Chapter 2 of Part 2 situates the past stages of redemptive history on the timeline in their relation to the redemptive act of Christ which serves as the Mid-point. He explains how to properly interpret the OT in light of the NT, and as pointing to Christ. In chapter 3 of part 2 Cullmann considers how the future stages (the coming age) relates to the mid-point on the timeline. He begins by considering how the Jewish notions of eschatology have been changed by the redemptive act of Christ. He continues by noting that all eschatological hope, for the Christian, is based upon the redemptive act of Christ in past history. Chapter 4 of part 2 turns to the question of the present day in its relation to the redemptive act of Christ at the mid-point of all history. The preaching of the Gospel is what gives meaning to this intermediary period.[13] He goes on to show how the canon and tradition relate to the mid-point of the history of the redemption of the world, and provides some interesting thoughts about the Catholic claims concerning the absoluteness of the present church and the apostolic succession of the Pope, as well as the all too strict adherence of Protestantism to the early church.

In the third main section, also composed of 4 chapters, he compares the four important periods of history that were elaborated in the previous section with the general understanding of world history. In chapter 1 of part 3 Cullmann considers the paradox of what he calls the Concentration and the Universality of Christianity. Universal because salvation is offered to all men, and all are responsible for their choice. Concentrated because salvation is only found in the church. In this perspective he discusses the Gentiles and their relation to the Gospel, and considers Romans 1:19-20, 2:14-15 and Acts 17:22ff. His interpretations of these texts are quite debatable. In chapter 2 of the third section Cullman holds in Contrast those verses that "speak of Christ's present Lordship over all things in contrast to those that speak of his Lordship exercised only over that small section which is the Church."[14] In Chapter 3 of section 3 considers the place of the state in the redemptive history, and in relation to the redemptive midpoint which is the act of Christ on the cross, and the angels (good or fallen) that are behind the actions of the state. He expounds some interesting views concerning the relationship of church and state. In chapter 4 of part 3 Cullman considers how the primitive Christians viewed the world. Not world deniers, but declaring the absolute sovereignty of Christ over all things, including the world.  Christians live in a now but not yet paradox.

Finally, in the fourth main section, composed of 3 chapters he discusses the relation of the individual person to the past, present and future periods of redemptive history. He argues that everything said in the New Testament concerning the individual man is based upon the structure of redemptive history. In chapter 1 of part 4 he considers how the individual believer is related to the past part of redemption history, first of all as a sinner for whom the redemptive event took place, and secondly as an elect individual. In chapter 2 of part 4 Cullman considers the individual believer in his relation to the present period of redemptive history. The present is marked by the invisible lordship of Christ and the visible presence of the Church (thus baptism and spiritual gifts are discussed) and the individual finds his place in both, such that, "But even the most modest service in the Church of Christ belongs in the redemptive history.”[15] We also see the relationship between theology and ethics, and Cullman expounds what he sees as the foundation and method of Christian ethics. In chapter 3 of part 4 Cullman considers the individual believer in his relation to the future period of redemptive history. Thus he relates the future bodily resurrection of the individual believer to the whole of redemptive history. We are shown the relation of death to the resurrection in light of redemptive history. We are also shown the future aspects of our hope of resurrection. The book terminates with the glorious reminder that “It is in that end time, for the individual believer also, that the redemptive history finds its specifically future completion, when ‘he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by the Spirit’ (Rom. 8: 11).”[16]

This book is a challenging look at what how the New Testament interprets all of time, the entire history of the cosmos. This book challenges the Christian reader to put continue making the same audacious claim of the early church, that all of history gets its meaning from its relation to the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus-Christ. Each moment of the past, the present and the future finds its ultimate meaning in the redemptive act of Christ on the Cross. This book is not properly a philosophy of history, though Christian philosophers of history will need to interact with this book, and be inspired by this book to research and write history with an eye to the cross. This book is not a book that considers the philosophy of time, the author does not worry himself with any philosophical issues concerning time (which is the biggest difficulty with this book), as his main concern is to explain how Christ, the apostles and the early church understood and interpreted history. That being said, philosophers and theologians will certainly find this book interesting as Cullmann makes many interesting claims about time that are interesting on a theological and philosophical level. His view of history is a linear view which entails a definite beginning, and movement towards what might be construed as an ending. His book is a great reminder to all Christians that the most important moment in all of history was that redemptive act of Christ when he died for our sins and rose for our justification.[17]



[1]Oscar Cullman, Christ and Time (London: SCM Press, 1962), 32.

[2]Ibid., 32-33.

[3]Ibid., 59. Cf. Ibid., 92.

[4]Ibid., 49.

[5]Ibid., 61.

[6]Ibid., 62.

[7]Ibid., 94.

[8]Ibid.

[9]Ibid., 106.

[10]Ibid., 100.

[11]Ibid., 98.

[12]Ibid., 107.

[13]Ibid., 157.

[14]Ibid., 186.

[15]Ibid., 224.

[16]Ibid., 242.

[17]Rom. 4 :25.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

INFILTRATED: A BOOK ABOUT THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

Infiltrated: How to Stop the Insiders and Activists who are Exploiting the Financial Crisis to Control our Lives and Our Fortunes. Jay W. Richards. McGraw Hill Education, 2013. 299 pp. $25.00. ISBN 978-0-07-181695-3.

            In 2008 the United States of America entered into a period of financial disaster which is still wreaking havoc even today. Since the initial market crash the media has been pointing their fingers in every direction trying to find someone to blame. I moved to North Carolina in 2011 to study for my Master’s degree, and distinctly remember hearing all kinds of horror stories about people losing their jobs, and local governments being unable to fund high schools. Some of the people that I met and befriended when I was there lost their jobs due to the crisis, and were force to leave their homes. What happened? In Infiltrated Jay W. Richards, who holds a PhD from Princeton, is a Fellow at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, and a fellow at the Discovery Institute, seeks to explain what really caused the Financial Crisis, and why there may very well be another such crisis in the future. I will first note the purpose of this book, how it is structured, and its relative worth.

            The purpose of this book is to explain the economic structures and principles that need to be understood in order to understand why the financial crisis took place, and why, if things don’t change, another crisis is on its way. The author also points out who are the main actors behind the financial crisis, and why their actions led to the market crash. The author takes the time to explain how different financial structures work, their advantages and weaknesses. These explanations allow the uninformed reader to understand what happened, and what needs to be done. In a sense, his book is a call to action, as the author notes that the US government has embedded, in law, the very structures that caused the financial crisis.

            In the prologue the author gives a summary of what brought him to write this book, which was preceded by a book written in defense of Capitalism and free market. The author explains his intellectual journey from being a supporter of socialist economic theory to becoming a supporter of capitalism and free market theory. The first chapter describes the attacks on small cash lenders, and the forming of a bureau (the CFPB) with the purpose of regulating big companies that put the consumer in financial peril. Richards points out that these actions ended up causing more financial difficulty for American. The first chapter serves as an introduction to a number of themes that will be considered in more detail later in the book. Chapter 2 is a survey of the history of how currency came into existence, and on the development of loans. He notes how different types of loans work, and how they came to be accepted by society, what they permit, and their importance for the consumer.

Chapters 3 and 4 introduce the reader to three of the main actors in the financial crisis. Chapter 3 introduces us to two of the main characters in the market crash. Richards provides an analysis of the actions of the Herb and Marion Sandler, both in their loan company, and in politics, and concludes that they were, indeed, some of the main actors in the financial crisis. Chapter 4 introduces another actor that is directly responsible for the market crash, Martin Eakes. Richards gives us a brief overview of his story, his company and his techniques.

In Chapters 5 & 6 Richards considers two groups that were main actors in the market crash. The first an activist group, and the second a government agency. In chapter 5 Richards returns to the Sandlers and notes how their monetary  involvement with ACORN, an activist group designed to obtain special rights for the underprivileged in the US (through devious means), allowed them to defeat their competition in the loans marketplace without getting their hands dirty. In chapter 6 Richards points out the poor practices of the Center for Responsible Lending. He notes that they only targeted the competition of their wealthy donors, they used fallacious arguments and scare tactics to bend their prey to their will, and hypocritically attacked others for doing the same things that they were guilty of doing. He also notes the important influence of the Sandlers in this government agency that was the intellectual baby of Martin Eakes.

In chapter 7 Richards explains how selective Government bailouts contributed to the market meltdown. He also provides the reader with more important details about how loans and investments work. In chapter 8 Richards analyses the official story that was given to explain the market crash. He also shows why the official story was, for the most part, in error and pointed the finger at the wrong principles, companies, and people. In chapter 9 Richards provides the counter-arguments that Wallison brought against the official story. He explains how the government and media responded to Wallison, and shows how Wallison’s claims were vindicated.

Chapter 10 is an overview of the new Dodd’s and Franks Law and the problems created by this law, as well as the creation and immediate effect of the government bureau known as the CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). In chapter 11 Richards considers the attacks on small loans offices, and explains how they work, how they are wrongly portrayed by the activists, and what will happen if they are closed. In chapter 12 Richards gives a summary argument for the claim that Free Enterprise is the best economics theory, that too much government interference in the economy will only make things worse, and that the natural incentive of making money actually does regulate companies. In the final chapter, the conclusion, Richards explains what needs to be done to avoid a future financial crisis, and calls on the participation of every conscientious American citizen.


            This book provides the uninformed reader with all the information needed to understand what happened in the 2008 meltdown and the years that followed. Furthermore, the reader is given a better understanding of the advantages of a number of different financial devices that are frequently portrayed by activists in a bad light. This book is a must read by anybody who is interested in Economics, who is interested in the future economic success of their country (understanding what Richards says in this book will be useful for any country, not just the United States), or who is curious to understand what happened in the US financial crisis. It is an easy and interesting book to read, even for someone who has no understanding of economic terms. The author has successfully combined history, economics theory, and a call to action into an intriguing book that reads like a mystery novel. By the end of the book the reader will be convinced that the last 5 years of economic history in the US serve as the best argument for capitalism and free market economics.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A REVIEW OF CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY

Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction. Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen. Baker Academic, 2013. 289 pp. $22.99. ISBN 978-0-8010-3911-9.

            In his Introduction to Metaphysics Martin Heidegger claims that “A ‘Christian philosophy’ is a round square and a misunderstanding. To be sure, one can thoughtfully question and work through the world of Christian experience – that is, the world of faith. That is then theology.”[1] Josef Pieper counters Heidegger’s claim as follows: “This is the question: Is it permissible for the philosopher also to include in his philosophizing reflection information about the world and human existence not stemming from experience and rational argumentation but coming from areas such as are properly called ‘revelation’, ‘sacred tradition’, ‘faith’, or ‘theology’? Can the inclusion of such non-empirical and preter-rational assertions into one’s philosophizing possibly be justified? My answer to this: it is not only possible and justified but indeed necessary.”[2] Josef Pieper had written in an earlier essay, that “to be vital and true, philosophy must be the counterpoint to a true theology, and that, post Christum natum, means Christian theology.”[3] Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, in Christian Philosophy, the third book in their series of Introductory textbooks, demonstrate the error of Heidegger’s claim, and the truth of Pieper’s claim. This book is a history of, and introduction to, philosophy written from the perspective of the Dutch reformed position that was initiated and developed by Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven. In this review I will consider the purpose of the book, and provide an outline of how the author’s seek to obtain their goal.

            The purpose of this book is to provide students with an introduction to philosophy from a reformational position. “the way you tell the story of philosophy is never neutral, and our goal is to tell the story from a Christian perspective.”[4] There are many ways of introducing the student to philosophy, and they choose the method which is, by far, the most interesting, and arguably the best – a survey of the history of philosophy concluding with the author’s own philosophical positions. They are not the first to write this type of book, but, they do an excellent job of providing the beginning student with an affordable, brief and easy to understand introduction to philosophy as viewed through the eyes of reformational philosophy.

            The book is divided into three main sections. In the first section, composed of 2 chapters, they attempt, successfully, to answer the question “why study philosophy?” The two most important reasons, for Christians who will not be pursuing degrees in philosophy, are: (1) “a basic introduction to Christian philosophy will help in answering your neighbor’s queries.”[5] (2) A basic understanding of the history of philosophy is necessary for understanding contemporary culture.[6] If we don’t understand our culture, we will not be able to connect with our children (who are educated in it from elementary school to the end of their studies), we will be unable to understand the actions, attitudes and reactions of our neighbors, colleagues, and friends, and we will be unable to reach this world with the Gospel.[7] The second part of the first section is a consideration of the relationship between faith and reason. Though I see some difficulties with their understanding of the relationship of worldviews to philosophy, they provide an excellent analysis of the relationship between theology and philosophy.[8]

            The second main section is an overview, composed of 9 chapters, of the history of philosophical thought. In chapter 3 they give an overview of the main views of Socrates and the Pre-Socratic philosophers. In chapter 4 they consider the views of Plato and Aristotle. Chapter 5 is an introduction to Medieval philosophy, beginning with Augustine and finishing with Anselm. Chapter 6 is an introduction to the thought of Aquinas and the medieval recovery of Aristotle. In chapter 7 they consider the renaissance philosophers and the preparation for modern philosophy. Chapters 8-10 consider the development of modern philosophy from Bacon to Hegel and his legacy. In chapter 11 they consider the primary influences in contemporary philosophy and the post-modern movement.

            In the third main section they give an overview of contemporary Christian philosophy. In chapter 12 they provide a survey of some of the important thinkers in contemporary Catholic philosophy, including Alasdair MacIntyre, René Girard and Jean-Luc Marion. There are some notable philosophers that are missing, namely, Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Norman Kretzmann, Joseph Owens, and Eleonore Stump. Chapter 13 is an overview of the thoughts of the most well-known proponents of Reformed Epistemology, Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Chapter 14 is an overview of the ways in which reformed thinkers are actually engaging philosophy without sacrificing their theology. They distinguish between Reformed Philosophy and Reformational philosophy, and in chapter 15 they outline their own views by providing an overview of the views of the main proponents of this position, Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven. They conclude with a call to Christians “Our hope in writing this book is that for many readers this is not the end or the beginning of the end, as Winston Churchill once said, but perhaps the end of a beginning on the rich and vital journey of Christian philosophy.”[9]

            There are a number of technical errors about some of the philosophers (including doctrinal as well as historical errors), but these do not take away from the usefulness of this book. My main difficulty with this book is that the authors seem trapped in the post-modern view, influenced by Immanuel Kant and Martin Heidegger,[10] that all knowledge is necessarily tainted by one’s Worldview – that is – everybody approaches this world from a particular perspective.[11] They consistently claim that all facts are necessarily interpreted from some position (a worldview), and that there is no way to get out of that position to look at the world. The question, of course, remains, how do we know which position is true? Is there one true position. They claim that there is, however it is unclear how they know that it is true. It seems, therefore, that they are trapped in a relativism of Worldviews with no way of knowing which worldview is true.

            All in all this book was an interesting and inspiring overview of the history of philosophy, and a great introduction to the reformational school of philosophy. It is ideal for use in a course on Christian philosophy as it is endowed with an annotated bibliography, a well outlined table of contents, and a large index. The authors also provide plenty of footnotes that will allow the student to continue their research in areas that interest them. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of philosophy, with the warning that the authors presuppose the truth of Calvinism, and approach the history of philosophy from within this tradition.



[1]Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), 8 [6].

[2]Josef Pieper, In Defense of Philosophy, trans. Lothar Krauth (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 109.

[3]Josef Pieper, “The Philosophical Act”, in Leisure: The Basis of Culture, trans. Alexander Dru (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).

[4]Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, Christian Philosophy: A Systematic and Narrative Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), xii.

[5]Ibid., 6.

[6]Ibid., 7.

[7]A brief lecture of Acts 17 will demonstrate that even Paul was familiar with the general mindset of the culture that he was attempting to reach, and he was able to interact with and even quote some of the most well-known authors of that era.

[8]Ibid., 20-21.

[9]Ibid., 270.

[10]Though the alert reader, already familiar with Kant and Heidegger, will immediately recognize the influence of these great thinkers, Bartholomew and Goheen readily recognize that Dooyeweerd (who they recognize as the philosopher who they rely on the most, and who was a great influence on Cornelius Van Til), was influenced by Kant and Heidegger (Ibid., 243.).

[11]Ibid., 22, 23, 42, 63, 92, 115, 199. This seems to be a position that is accepted as truth in most reformed philosophical and apologetical traditions. Cornelius Van Til accepts an even more extreme version of this view, as do many others including Alvin Plantinga, Francis Schaeffer, and the contemporary presuppositional (Covenantal) Apologetical tradition.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A BOOK REVIEW OF COVENANTAL APOLOGETICS BY K. SCOTT OLIPHINT

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith. K. Scott Oliphint. Crossway, 2013. 277 pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4335-2817-0.

            Christian Apologetics is, essentially, active evangelism. It is the presentation, explanation and defense of the Christian faith. K. Scott Oliphint, who holds a B.S. from West Texas State University, and a M.A.R., Th.M., and a PhD. from WestMinster Theological Seminary, and is professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at WestMinster Theological Seminary, has just published a book which seeks to present an introduction of the principles of Presuppositional Apologetics, as well as to provide examples of how to put this method into action. In this book review I will begin by explaining the authors purpose, how he goes about attaining his purpose, and I will finish with some remarks as to the positive and negative aspects of this book.

            The author’s proposed purpose is to “set out (what has been called) a presuppositional approach to apologetics. As will become clear, however, I hope to do that in a way that is relatively free of technical vocabulary.”[1] At the beginning of the first chapter Oliphint breaks down this goal into two aspects. First, “to lay out the primary biblical and theological principles that must be a part of any covenantal defense of Christianity.”[2] Secondly, “to demonstrate how these principles might be applied against certain objections.”[3] The author says that, in order to accomplish this goal he will, first of all, “attempt to move past a somewhat common description of apologetics and apply a new label.”[4] Secondly, “move discussions about a ‘presuppositional’ approach to apologetics past simply laying out the principles that must be included in it.”[5] Thirdly, “translate the language, concepts, and ideas set forth in Van Til’s Reformed apologetic into language, terms and concepts that are more accessible.”[6] This will include translating “much of what is meant in Van Til’s own writings from their often philosophical and technical contexts to a more basic biblical and theological context.”[7] The author hopes to show that “apologetics must (1) be Christian and (2) have a theological foundation.”[8]

            Oliphint divides this task into seven main sections. Chapter 1 seeks to set the stage for the rest of the book by grounding the task of Apologetics on a properly Biblical and Christian foundation. In the first chapter he explains how the lordship of Christ should control the entire apologetical enterprise, provides the reasons why he would like to change the name of his method from “presupposional” to “covenantal”. He goes onto provide what he sees as the biblical context for knowledge of God, and the ten foundational principles of covenantal apologetics.

            Chapter 2 seeks to ground covenantal apologetics in an appropriate understanding of the nature of God. In so doing he interacts with Immanuel Kant’s division between faith and reason. He also explains how to interact with an argument, and demonstrates how this is to be done, first, by explaining an event that involved Richard Dawkins and a skeptical society, and secondly by interacting with an argument presented by Anthony Kenny against classical theism.
            Chapter 3 seeks to “clarify ways in which our basic principles (the ten tenets) relate to the notion of proof in apologetics.”[9] This is done primarily through a discussion and application of Paul’s address to the Greeks at the Aeropagus, in Acts 17. In this chapter he provides a brief analysis of what a proof is and is capable of accomplishing, as well as the notion of burden of proof. This chapter finishes with a brief look at some classical demonstrations for the existence of God, and an example conversation between a humanist and a Covenant Apologist.
             In chapter 4 Oliphint discusses the trivium of the ancient and medieval world, and then introduces what he calls the trivium of covenantal apologetics. In this chapter he discusses the use of rhetoric in apologetics, and argues that apologetics is much more about persuasion than about demonstration. Here he considers Aristotle’s three aspects of Rhetoric in their application to Christian apologetics.
              In Chapter 5 Oliphint describes how to engage in negative apologetics (destroying arguments against Christianity), and positive apologetics (recommending Christianity). In order to demonstrate how to engage in negative apologetics he interacts with the problem of evil that is frequently brought against Christianity. In this chapter we are also provided with another example of how a Covenantal Apologist would interact with an atheist on the question of evil.
              In chapter 6 Oliphint explains the attitude that we should have as we interact with unbelievers, and seek to persuade them of the truth of Christianity. We are given a example of these principles through a fictitious conversation between a Covenant Apologist and Daniel Dennett. He finishes with a discussion of plausibility and possibility, and the question of how competent one must be to engage a person in conversation.
               In the final chapter Oliphint seeks to show how a Covenant Apologist would engage a religious person and seek to persuade them of the truth of Christianity. After providing a number of principles for discussion, Oliphint gives an example of how a conversation might go between a muslim and a Covenant Apologist.

            This book is written to render Van Tillian Presuppositionalism accessible, and to show how it can be put into practice. It seems that the intended audience would be lay-people who have no training in apologetics, however, this book will be useful for students in a Bachelor program, and of interest for scholars engaged in apologetics, as it is the most accessible explanation, in a relatively easy to read format, of Presuppositional Apologetics. It is well structured into chapters and subdivisions making it easy to follow. In each chapter he provides examples of how he would put his principles into action. There is an interesting Foreward written by William Edgar. The book includes a bibliography, a general index, and a scripture index which allow the researcher to easily find important quotations and discussions of key subjects.

            Oliphint provides interesting discussions of many important areas of apologetics. He constantly reminds the reader Christian apologetics is primarily Christian – that is, what we are seeking to show is that Christianity is true. As such, all Christian apologetics needs to take account of the Christian perception of the world, and remain founded in the Bible. His discussion, and application to Christian Apologetics, of the three parts of the Aristotelian understanding of rhetoric will be of interest to all budding apologists.

            Some things to keep in mind as we read this book are, first of all, Oliphint presupposes the truth of the reformed understanding of scripture. He notes in the introduction that “The biblical and theological principles that will be laid out below belong, historically, to the theology that gained its greatest clarity during the time of the Reformation.”[10] Furthermore, Oliphint notes, “Our entire discussion will assume that Reformed theology is the best and most consistent expression of the Christian faith.”[11] We are frequently reminded of this fact as the book progresses. We are reminded that the foundational claims for presuppositional apologetics are grounded in the notion of total depravity, and the other elements of the Calvinist TULIP. One gets the impression that presuppositionalism is so tied to Calvinism that if one rejects the basic interpretation of scriptures that are advanced by Calvinism, then one must also reject presuppositionalism.[12] This, of course, is not strictly true (though Calvinism seems to be the only coherent theological position that a thinker can accept, if that thinker wishes to maintain presuppositionalism, and the traditional Christian faith) as presuppositionalism is an essentially post-modern philosophy that finds its roots in thinkers such as Martin Heidegger and his followers, who claim that all of humanity interprets the world, necessarily, from their particular perspective.

            Some of the difficulties that I noticed in this book are that, Oliphint claims that there is no experience that is common to all mankind,[13] that is accessible to all humanity and which can be used to develop a truthful and coherent ‘Natural Theology’. It would appear that because of this, all discussion that is not biblically based (or which at least presupposes the truth of Trinitarian Reformed theology) is necessarily based upon one’s own authority, and therefore, is nothing but the exchange of mere opinion. This, however, seems to remove the possibility (though he denies this fact) of an unbeliever to discover truth, until they accept, by faith, the truth of Christianity. Oliphint, and most presuppositionalists, attempt to get around this claim by saying that it is possible for unbelievers to discover truth, they simply cannot understand it, as it should be understood – as being a part of a universe that is upheld by the Trinitarian God of Chrisianity. Space restraints do not allow us to pursue this thought any further. An interesting difficulty with Oliphint’s view is that he claims that all of humanity knows that God exists because all of humanity has been implanted, from birth, with innate knowledge, that is clear, distinct and infallible, of God’s nature.[14] He goes so far as to claim that all of humanity has the common experience of innate knowledge of God.[15] This claim flows from his interpretation of Romans 1:19-20, and one is obligated to ask, is this not a common experience from which we can begin in demonstrating the truth of Christianity? Oliphint would say yes, as the entire presuppositionalist method of Oliphint is built upon this notion. What then, aside from what qualifies as a common experience, is the difference between this method of persuasion, and the methods of persuasion that are commonly used in Natural Theology?

            My second main difficulty with this book is that Oliphint does not clearly define any of the most important and most used terms in this book, such as “know”, “knowledge”, “exist”, “existence”, “nature”, “essence”, “truth”, “real”, “freedom”, “rational”, “attribute”, or “character”. Yet he consistently uses these terms to talk about man’s knowledge of God, of this world, of what is real, of man’s nature, God’s essence, etc. The fact that these terms are undefined, yet used in many ways that are obviously different, leaves the attentive reader with the impression (whether it is true or not) that Oliphint is guilty of constant equivocation, ambiguous claims,[16] and self-contradiction.[17]

            In spite of the difficulties that I see with this book, I would recommend this book as a great introduction to Presuppositional Apologetics. It is a pleasure to read, and much of what Oliphint has to say will be helpful to apologists of any stripe.


[1]K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 25.
 
[2]Ibid., 29.
 
[3]Ibid., 30.
 
[4]Ibid., 25.
 
[5]Ibid.
 
[6]Ibid., 26.
 
[7]Ibid.
 
[8]Ibid., 38.
 
[9]Ibid., 87.
 
[10]Ibid., 30.
 
[11]Ibid.
 
[12]In fact, it seems that if Total Depravity, as described by traditional Calvinistic theology, is false, then Presuppositionalism is necessarily false. (Even though it still provides us with numerous important insights into how to interact with people who do not ‘understand’ the world in the same way that we do.)
 
[13]Ibid., 238. This claim is made frequently throughout this book.
 
[14]Ibid., 99-102.
 
[15]Ibid., 239.
 
[16]See for example, Ibid., 74, 84, 169, 185.
 
[17]See, for example, his claim on page 155, « It is certainly true, in other words, that God is the first cause, the necessary being on which all contingency depends, the designer of all that is, and so forth. But these truths can only be true if framed in terms of the real world, the world that God has condescended to make and control. »